MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- The Alabama Legislature could authorize the borrowing of $280 million through state bond issues Monday to finance everything from more secure school entrances to electronic tablets for students.
With the Republican-controlled Legislature repeatedly making it clear that new taxes are off the table, lawmakers are increasingly turning to bond issues to provide money. Several bills authorizing bond issues are among the stacks of bills awaiting a vote on the last day of the 2013 legislative session.
Republican Gov. Robert Bentley said a lot of bond sales have been proposed this session.
"I don't know that we are going to be doing all that," he said.
The bond issue bills awaiting a vote include:
—Allowing the sale of $50 million in bonds to pay for renovations and equipment to make the entrances of Alabama's K-12 schools more secure. The bond issue was recommended by a legislative panel that studied security after the Sandy Hook school killings in Connecticut.
—Allowing the sale of another $50 million in bonds to replace outdated technology equipment in public schools. The bond issue fits in with the state Department of Education's plan to have all high school graduates ready for college or a career.
—Proceeding with the sale of $100 million in bonds to help public schools replace paper textbooks with electronic books on tablets or other computerized equipment. The Legislature passed a bill last year to begin preparing for a $100 million bond sale to implement the Alabama Ahead program of electronic textbooks, but this bill allows the bond sale to go ahead.
—Providing $30 million in bonds to pay for repairs to schools damaged by tornadoes in 2011 and 2012, including $15 million for Murphy High School in Mobile and $8 million for schools in the Tuscaloosa area.
—Allowing the sale of $50 million in bonds to build and maintain Alabama National Guard armories.
The Legislature has traditionally used bond issues for constructing public schools and other government buildings that will last for decades. But now, tight budgets, low interest rates, and an anti-tax mood are causing legislators to look at bond issues for equipment that can become outdated in a few years.
In 2012, the Legislature approved $33 million in bond sales to buy school buses. It marked the second time in recent years the state has borrowed to buy buses rather than making the purchases out of current tax revenue.
"There are concerns about borrowing. Sometimes with low interest rates, it makes sense. But sometimes it is better to pay as you go," Senate Budget Committee Chairman Trip Pittman, R-Daphne, said.
He said that's why he insisted the technology bond issue bill include language that allows schools to partner with local industries to get equipment rather than all the cost falling on schools.
He said the bond issue for electronic textbooks may be rewritten Monday to phase in the program over a few years rather than all schools making the transition at once.
The armory bond issue is the only one the governor has raised concerns about publicly. Even if the Legislature approves all the bond issues, the governor said he has the power to be fiscally responsible about how and when the bonds are sold.
"You know, I do have to issue the bonds," he said with a smile.